[Tweeters] First Bird Book

Mark Egger m.egger at comcast.net
Sun Sep 17 14:03:41 PDT 2006

I'm a little late on responding to this thread. Since my answer is
NOT one of the typical answers (Peterson, Golden Guide, etc.) I
thought I'd share mine. It is also instructive regarding the tendency
of parents & others to offer simple, "dumbed-down", boring versions
of books to young people, rather than providing rich, beautiful
volumes that challenge and stimulate their thirsty young minds!

The book in question was the splendid, 290 page, 8.5x11 inch tome,
Birds of America, edited by T. Gilbert Pearson and illustrated with
106 of the wonderful color plates of L.A. Fuertes. It was given to me
by my beloved grandparents on Easter of 1960, when I was 9 years old.
I'd expressed an interest in birds around my yard, and they got me
this book! The treatments of all species were extensive, in content
and style somewhat like a one-volume, abridged edition of the Bent
Life Histories series. While it may seem like too much for a 9-year
old, I LOVED this book, even inscribing the inside of the cover with
the following unedited quote: "Date boeat: April 16, 1960, Saterday
night". From the wonderful plate of exotic Alcids to the illuminated
text beginning the first paragraph of the Family-level introductions,
this was a COOL book. Another favorite plate for a 9-year old boy was
Plate 51, showing a family of Peregrines (then called Duck Hawks) at
a ledge nest, with one adult in the process of ripping apart a
meadowlark to feed the nestlings. A drop of blood is dripping from
the tip of the meadowlark's bill, and a dismembered wing lies off to
one side. Awesome! A few plates on we have a savage looking Barred
Owl about to eat a dead Eastern Screech Owl in its talons! This book
not only taught me about the wonderful variety of birds one could see
in North America and began a life-long love of birds and all nature,
but it also stimulated an interest in reading, writing (I sure needed
help with spelling!), and travel. About the same time,someone else
gave me a "children's" book about birds that had color stamps that
one would then paste onto the appropriate blanks in the main text. It
covered about 40 species and had almost no text. That book was
quickly left behind for the riches and depth of the Pearson book.

I should also mention that my first real field guide (purchased when
I was about 20) was the Robbins et al. Golden Guide. While I felt
mildly positive towards Peterson, I worshiped the Robbins guide. To
me, the color plates were much better (heresy to some), showed the
birds in more natural poses, and it covered the entire continent,
rather than what I considered the stupid decision to split them into
eastern & western books to make it "easier", this time dumbing-down
for adults. Were we incapable to looking at range maps?? I loved
being able to see what birds I would find in Maine, Pennsylvania or
Florida! The Robbins book also had a continent-wide, nicely presented
checklist section for keeping the old life list, AND it had the
intriguing and cool-looking sonagrams of the bird voices. Once one
learns how to interpret these, they seem a lot more instructive to me
than do all the subjective "tweet-tweet-toodle-oo" descriptions
convey nothing regarding pitch, timbre or modulation in delivery of
the songs. It was a memorable experience for me years later when I
had the opportunity to do an independent studies project in Gordon
Orians' lab, wherein I made sonagrams of chickadee vocalizations from
my own field recordings! These tapes were never published, but I
donated them to Millicent Fricken's lab, which specialized in Parid

Even today I use the Robbins field guide, in conjunction with the
National Geographic and Sibley guide.


Mark Egger
Seattle, WA
mailto:m.egger at comcast.net

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